From Violins to Violence

My mother, whose family came from Lithuania, used to claim of my father’s family, which migrated from Galicia, that in the Old Country they had earned their living as horse thieves.

Which, if true, makes it all the more surprising that one descendant of such scurrilous ancestors is now working on the other side of the law. My oldest daughter, Dafna, having graduated from the Police Academy last summer, is now an LAPD officer, serving and protecting the local citizenry out of the North Hollywood station.

It has been quite a career change. For the past 15 years, Dafna has been a Suzuki violin teacher of small children, guiding 3-year-olds through the five variations of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the more difficult works that follow in the Suzuki regimen. Her mother was one of the pioneer Suzuki teachers in Los Angeles and still puts in a full day correcting notes and adjusting arm positions. It is, in many ways, a rewarding career — although it helps if you have ears that are not too sensitive.

But music teachers who are not on a school payroll do not receive paid vacations, do not enjoy retirement benefits, have limited health insurance, and earn nothing if they are sick or if their students fail to appear. It is, in brief, a mite short on some of the aspects of financial security that a young woman needs if she is going to provide for her future.

Still, it is quite a leap from “raise your elbow” to “put up your hands.” It means that Dafna joins a culture with which most of us are unfamiliar. I once attended an annual meeting of the Shomrim Society — the organization of Jewish LAPD officers — back when I was a Jewish Journal staffer, and all I recall from that experience is that the door prize was a 9mm pistol. It seemed exotic and almost foreign at the time.

It seems that way no longer. I attended Dafna’s Police Academy graduation and, within seconds of the beginning of the ceremony, recognized where I was: “Pomp and Circumstance” notwithstanding, I had returned to the military culture I had last experienced half a century ago in the American and Israeli armies. There were differences, of course. Soldiers in armies are trained to kill national enemies; Dafna’s purpose in the LAPD is to protect honest citizens. Our foes were foreigners; her problems will arise from people she lives among. Our battles took place mainly on enemy territory; hers will occur in her hometown.

This proximity of place and closeness of persons means that Dafna cannot enjoy the luxury we had of divorcing ourselves from the consequences of our actions. We never faced the families of the enemies we slew or, in many instances, even saw the bodies of the dead. That was a distance that served us well. She will not have such a protective shield when she has to deal with the tragedies and the horrors of urban American life, which is, basically, what we hire the police to do.

Due to her singular career choice, Dafna faces another situation that wasn’t included in the warnings police recruits are given during their training. North Hollywood is home to a community of Modern Orthodox Jews. Several times, when problems have arisen involving children from that community, she has been dispatched by the station to deal with them. Her first name being Israeli (she was born in Jerusalem), Dafna invariably hears the question, “What does your husband think of your work?” Her answer, that she is single, is quickly followed by an invitation to Shabbat lunch. So far, I am told, her beshert, if one exists, has not been found, but I have informed my friends who live there that I hope for their success.

My friends, none with family members in the police, ask me if I am nervous about my daughter’s new career. Of course, I am, but I am more proud of what she has accomplished than worried about her future. Unlike many who change professions in mid-career, she knew exactly what would be required of her if she was to survive nine months of grueling police training. She studied Spanish, she ran miles every morning, she practiced judo, she became an expert with a pistol, she walked the walk and talked the talk, and all this even before she was accepted into the academy. In short, her application was not the result of a sudden whim or a desperate response to financial insecurity but a well-planned and well-executed career decision.

So now our teacher of 3-year-old prospective Paganinis is a police officer riding the streets of the east San Fernando Valley in a squad car. She tells us that her nickname at the station is “Heifetz” and that, as of our most recent conversation, she has seen her first suicide and arrested her first ax wielder. Pressed for further details, she says only that there are times when she is happy that her parents don’t know what is going on.

It may well have been that Dafna’s paternal great-grandparents in Galicia made their living as horse thieves. Horse thieves are in short supply in Los Angeles, but miscreants of other types abound. Let them be warned accordingly and leave town. Or, at least, North Hollywood.

Contributing writer Yehuda Lev writes from Providence, R.I.